By Bill Minor
Send Forest Thigpen $500 and he’ll anoint you a “patriot.” Send $25,000 and he’ll call you a “visionary.” Dough Thigpen raises is for what’s called the Mississippi Center for Public Policy. He calls it a Think Tank, but in reality it’s the most influential lobby at the Capitol.
The reason: Thigpen has the ear of the state’s top officials who all happen to be Republicans. Some knowledgeable observers say Thigpen is operating a shadow government. Certainly Gov. Phil Bryant, the state’s top official, is doing his bidding.
To believe only what Thigpen claims in his mailings, he is just a conservative advocating good government. In reality, however, Thigpen right now is shaping state governmental policy on the two most critical issues facing the current Legislature: 1. Whether to expand Medicaid under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, a move that would bring medical coverage to some 300,000 low-income, mostly working-poor Mississippians; and 2. Whether a new system of privately-run, taxpayer funded, “charter” schools is installed.
His primary target at the Capitol is to kill any state move to expand Medicaid coverage.
A little background on Thigpen: Originally from Cleveland, his father “Bud” was a Democratic lawmaker and sidekick of notoriously heavy-handed House Speaker Buddie Newman. Forest Thigpen served for 10 years on Thad Cochran’s Washington staff before coming down to launch the Mississippi Center for Public Policy as purportedly an “independent, non-profit public policy organization.” His literature says “individuals, corporations and foundations” financially support the outfit he created.
Haley Barbour became Thigpen’s first sugar daddy eight years ago when he mailed several endorsement cover-letters in 9×12 manila envelopes that looked very much like official state correspondence. Phil Bryant followed suit. Recently State Auditor Stacy Pickering got into the act, praising Thigpen’s influence “for good.”
Recently Thigpen stacked a Mississippi legislative hearing on Medicaid expansion with alleged health care “experts” who testified against expansion. One principal witness was a Florida woman connected to the American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC, the front group which the billionaire Koch brothers use as a conduit to enact right wing bills (among them Voter ID, charter schools and blocking so-called Obamacare) in Republican-controlled states.
In Mississippi, Thigpen is registered as a lobbyist with the secretary of state and while not reporting contributions to MCPP, he has reported expenditures. Of particular interest is a report he bought airplane tickets and hotel expenses for more that 50 legislators (plus presiding officers in both chambers) he took to Orlando last October to visit several Florida charter schools.
Rep. Credell Calhoun of Jackson, one of the few Democrats on the trip, said he was not persuaded to support the charter school idea.
Calhoun said however the trip did convince him that Thigpen was getting backing from ALEC, the Koch brothers’ front group. “The corporations seem to be taking over our government, from the state level all the way to Washington,” the outspoken Calhoun declared.
Syndicated columnist BILL MINOR has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him through Ed Inman at email@example.com.